During the luteal phase and the early months of pregnancy, there is a dense mucosal infiltration of CD56+ natural killer (NK) cells. These uterine NK cells have a phenotype (CD56bright, CD16-, mCD3-) which distinguishes them from peripheral blood NK cells (CD56dim, CD16bright, mCD3-). The uterine NK cells are in close association with extravillous trophoblast (EVT) cells which infiltrate into the decidua and maternal spiral arteries. This subpopulation of trophoblast expresses two human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I molecules, HLA-G and HLA-C. Circulating NK cells express receptors for HLA class I molecules. We have recently found evidence that similar receptors are present on decidual NK cells belonging to both the Killer Inhibitory Receptor (KIR) and CD94 families. The repertoire of NK receptors expressed varies between different women. The findings indicate that decidual NK cells do have receptors for trophoblast HLA class I molecules. Experiments are underway to determine the effects of this interaction on NK cell function.
Keywords:decidua/HLA Class I/NK cells/trophoblast/uterus